Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Meditation Hack (Or just correct technique)

I love the old adage "learn the rules, follow the rules, break the rules," of which Bruce Lee loved to quote. Unfortunetly most of us spend an inordinate amount of time in the first two steps. To optimize learning and internalizing a path of health or a specific practice or skill, it is helpful to follow the three steps but quickly move to #3.

This would have saved me the good portion of a decade of my meditation practice if I would've known this earlier. As I described in an earlier post on meditation, despite years of diligent practice, I didn't get anywhere with it until I began to both experiment with every method I could find and learn to tweak the technique myself and follow my own N=1 experience.

I've been inspired to write this post because I have recently discovered what might be a short cut to effective meditation.

Having studied much about breathing and its link with the nervous system, I have come to find that the breath is one of the greatest ways to induce that subtle altered state of powerful meditation.

One of the main ways I do this is by beginning by seeking out anywhere in my body that isn't relaxed and one the out-breath I send out the intention to relax. Next I focus on the out-breath and let my body relax deeper and deeper and enter the focused state deeper and deeper each time.

Why the out-breath? Because the out-breath stimulates the relaxation response, or the parasympathetic nervous system. I have come to believe that one cannot directly battle their anxious and jumpy mind with intention, which equals more of a mental directive, which leads to more stress and tension due to the inevitable failure that ensues.

No, the quickest way I know of is to calm the body and nervous system while also taking the time to focus on something, such as the belly, or nostrils, or body in general and going deeper and deeper.

Now, onto what I've discovered:

  • When we focus our attention on the breath, we usually cannot separate our sense of control to the natural process of breathing.
  • We control our breathing (and thus whole body and nervous system/psychology) on the out-breath as much as the in breath.
  • Simply focusing on the breath, even for long-ass retreats doesn't always tend to lead to a giving up control over breathing. 
  • In a normally relaxed state it does not make sense to intentionally push the breath outwards with muscular effort.
  • When taught to let go of effort and control of the out-breath, there tends to be a sense of calm that ensues that even severely anxious people can attain quite easily.
This will all make sense when I describe the exact technique I've been practicing:

  • After relaxing into a meditation position and relaxing my bodily held tensions...
  • I begin to let my out-breaths happen until my whole core relaxes and all air is expelled, with the exception of what would take effort to expel...
  • I let go of any intention to continue the breath and let it pause until my body seems to want to automatically take an in-breath...
  • All the while focusing on my lower belly.
It is simply letting the out-breath occur fully and naturally without any conscious muscular effort to expel air, then to allow the normal and automatic process of taking an in-breath to occur. Thus, you are meditating on letting the body or the animal inside us breathe us. Not our minds or conscious egos.

I feel that this is what Zen meditation teachers are getting at when they say to just sit and/or count the breaths and breathe normally and you will eventually figure how to breathe correctly. It is being present, focused and surrendering to the autonomic process of breathing while simultaneously aware of the breath. 

This is no easy task as we normally unconsciously equate conscious observation of our bodily processes with somatic control. 

Let me end with saying that there is a time and place for this giving up control to breathing and doing specific breathing technniques that are intentional, such as pranayama or bioenergetic breath work. 

Try it and let me know what happens. Don't try it if you have any breathing problems or psychiatric problems that would conflict with this level of giving up mental control to the body. 

Here are some recommended readings: